A new round of President Obama's ambassador nominees are set to be examined by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, and they include a big time financial contributor to the Obama administration.
Typically, a high-profile donor like Dwight Bush Sr. being nominated for the ambassadorship to the Kingdom of Morocco or Caroline Kennedy being nominated as ambassador to Japan wouldn't garner much media attention. However, this politicalization of ambassadorships are quickly becoming common practice in the Obama White House. 56% of the president's second-term ambassadorial appointments have been political, a rate almost double the average of his predecessors (30%). At least 26 of Obama's appointments are responsible for $13.6 million in donations to the president, the Democratic Party, and congressional candidates.
In a time where the president is dealing with a crisis in Syria, appears to be being outmaneuvered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on a number of issues, and the U.S. is facing an international diplomatic crisis over its surveillance programs, , shouldn't the president be setting a new standard in re-legitimizing the role of ambassador? In an era where Americans have grown weary of international action diplomacy is as important as ever, and the president must reverse course and establish strong ambassadors.
These ambassadorial appointments should be treated the same way any other high-level federal appointment is treated. Instead of rewarding donors and political kingmakers and devaluing the position, the ambassadors should be grilled on their knowledge of the country they're being sent to. For example, Caroline Kennedy doesn't speak Japanese or even have a background in Asian politics. What qualifies her for the role of ambassador? Her father working to reestablish ties with Japan after WWII? Her early endorsement of then-Senator Obama? Caroline Kennedy shouldn't be confirmed by the Senate to represent the United States abroad in this capacity. The person filling this vacancy should be prepared to handle any international issue that may arise, and should be able to comprehend where the Japanese government is coming from on those issues.
Important ambassadorships like the United Kingdom (where President Obama couldn't rally support for a Syrian strike), Germany, and France have gone to high-profile political donors while top diplomats are passed over as a political courtesy to friends. This president vowed to change the way Washington works and has doubled down on political rewards for donors. Our oldest allies shouldn't be rewarded with ambassadors who are looking for foreign vacations. Ambassadorships aren't backpacking through Europe and donors aren't recent college grads. The president has to begin treating our allies with the respect of foreign policy professionals and not just his golfing buddies.